New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Inside Tompkins Square Bagels: The East Village’s most cherished bagel shop

From traditional to innovative flavors, Tompkins Square Bagels brings dependably delicious bagels to the East Village.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Tompkins Square Bagels’ Second Avenue location. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Despite the more than 200 bagel shops in New York City, Tompkins Square Bagels perseveres as a go-to spot for East Village locals and NYU students alike. Whether your favorite cream cheese flavor is scallion or chocolate chip cookie dough, a Tompkins Square Bagels staff member will spread a generous heap of it onto your bagel every morning and hand it to you with a smile.

The homey East Village bagel shop celebrates its 12th anniversary this month. Located a couple blocks away from the Third Avenue North, Founders, Palladium and Alumni residence halls, the Second Avenue location is a familiar retreat for NYU students craving carbs and comfort.

Tompkins Square Bagels is the ideal spot for a hot, filling breakfast that won’t break the bank. The shop serves 13 varieties of breakfast sandwiches packed with meaty, eggy and cheesy goodness, several of which are under $10. Its three locations have cozy indoor seating and walls covered with vibrant paintings made by local artists — the perfect brunch ambiance. 

Christopher Pugliese, the owner of the chain, is always eager to chat with customers, especially students, about their day.

“We tell our staff all the time at staff meetings that we’re in the happiness business,” he said. “We want to be the place you remember from college. And one day, believe it or not, you will be 50 or 40 looking back at your life, and we want to be that place you still remember.”

A man in a blue sweater and jeans poses for a photo next to a metal shelf that is full of uncooked bagels.
Founder Christopher Pugliese in the basement of their Second Avenue location. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

The shop takes pride in its innovation of the bagel making process. In the basement cooler of its Second Avenue location, dozens of seven-foot-tall carts are filled to the brim with thousands of proofing bagels, just enough to last a weekend of orders. The staff runs through 500 pounds of flour per day, preparing the classic dough for its more traditional flavors and specialty doughs for flavors like blueberry and French toast.

Gloved hands hold a halved bagel sandwich made with sliced meat, lettuce, cheese, onions, and bacon.
(Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

One of their most lip-smacking combinations is the French toast bagel with strawberry cream cheese — a sweet treat stuffed with cinnamon sugar swirls in the bread, cinnamon sugar coating and a naturally pink cream cheese with fresh strawberry slices. The dessert-like bagel is a great pick-me-up during a boring lecture. 

Strawberry is only one out of a vast selection of toppings on the menu. There’s lox for salmon lovers, tofu cream cheeses for vegans, espresso cream cheese for coffee addicts and even cranberry chicken salad for anyone who wants to try something different. 

“You can get things you can’t get anywhere else,” said Director of Operations Hilary Street. “The cream cheeses are made fresh every single day, and the guy that makes them is like a magician. I can’t even remember how fast they do it. There’s an art to this.”

A refrigerated display case with 27 identical white bowls, each with a butter knife and a different type of cream cheese.
Over two dozen different cream cheeses are on display to customers as they decide what to order. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Their most viral cream cheese flavor, birthday cake, is inspired by a sprinkle cookie from a Brooklyn bakery Pugliese frequently visited as a child. 

“I was actually trying to replicate a cookie that I got at a bakery when I was a little kid in the ’70s and ’80s,” Pugliese said. “I would save all of my money to go with my friends from the neighborhood and buy the sprinkle cookie. It would make me so happy that I figured I’d make it into a cream cheese because sprinkles make people happy, it’s just a happy thing.”

Pugliese makes his business home to everyone involved. As long work hours are typical for the shop’s staff, he stresses the importance of having an unfeigned sense of community.

“I don’t know if you’ve been here on a Saturday or Sunday, but we’re in the fire together,” Pugliese said. “We get to know each other, and we talk in our downtime. We went through the shutdown together. We were here in the dog days, in the worst days where people were scared to get on a train and come to work, and there was no one left in the city except us. But we took care of each other.”

His unwavering dedication to the Tompkins Square Bagels family is also evident among the shop. General manager Ahmed Elfadel, a veteran in the restaurant industry, claims that the shop is more than just a job.

“It’s not about making money, but about feeling like I’m doing something special for people,” Elfadel said. “If I only wanted to make money, I could stay home because nowadays you can make the same money anywhere. It’s a tough job with a lot of steps, but I still come in every day.”

Pugliese’s “happiness business” is the motto that has stuck with staff like Miguel, a lead staff member who has been with the company for over 12 years. He believes that hospitable staff are the foundation for any successful bagel shop. 

“You need to have employees who are not only going to do the job, but be exceptional at it,” he said. “They’re not just going to sit around and work on the grill, but see that there’s a customer that needs help deciding on their order, get out of the grill, and attend to that customer.”

Tompkins Square Bagels is a charming neighborhood spot that blends modernity and tradition with its inventive menu and welcoming atmosphere. The next time you’re in the mood for a bagel and a new friend, stop by any of the shop’s locations.

Contact Andrea Lui at [email protected].


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About the Contributors
Andrea Lui
Andrea Lui, Dining Editor
Andrea Lui is a sophomore at Stern studying Business with concentrations in Finance and Computing & Data Science and a minor in Business of Entertainment, Media and Technology. She developed a profound love for writing while performing poetry, prose and dramatic monologues for over 10 years as a competitive public speaker. At NYU, she's also an Admissions Ambassador and serves as the External Relations Co-Director of the Board of Undergraduate Stern Women in Business. Andrea is on a mission to try every single restaurant in New York City … Check out @lui.andrea on Instagram to see if she succeeds.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Jason Alpert-Wisnia, Editor-at-Large
Jason Alpert-Wisnia is a junior majoring in Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, primarily focused on photojournalism and documentary photography. His photography ranges from coverage of professional sports, to political protests and music festivals. When he is not pounding the pavement with a camera in his hands looking for the next story, you are likely to find Jason in a used bookstore looking for rare finds or in the park reading. You can find him on Instagram @jasonalpertwisnia and contact him at [email protected].

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